The 15 Most Unstable Countries in Africa

Some of the most unstable countries in the world are in Africa, according to the 2013 Failed States Index. The Failed States Index is released every year by the Fund for Peace, which bases the list on 12 social, economic and political indicators including demographic pressures (disease, natural disasters, famine); refugees and population displacement; group grievances, tensions, human flight and brain drain; uneven economic development; poverty, state legitimacy or corruption; availability and effectiveness of public services; human rights; security; power struggles; and external intervention. (For a complete methodology of the study, go to The following are the most unstable countries in Africa according to the FSI ranking, but even though some areas of the countries are unstable, plenty of areas within the country are perfectly safe. Just check travel advisories.


This article originally appeared on

burundi flag



Burundi is a small landlocked country, bordered by Tanzania, Rwanda and the DRC. It is also one of the five poorest countries in the world. Burundi’s first democratically elected president was assasinated in 1993, resulting in a long civil war. A new constitution was established after a shaky peace finally was restored (after international intervention) in 2005. The government was reelected in 2010 and faces many political and economic challenges. The country continues to face high levels of crime and banditry, and it is suggested that some provinces (Bujumbura Rural, Bubanza and Cibitoke) should not be visited at all.

ethiopia flag



Locked in the world’s mind as a place of appalling suffering during the great famine in the 1980s, Ethiopia is also a proud nation with a long and important history. Today it is one of the world’s most populous landlocked countries. It emerged from a border war with Eritrea in 2000, as Eritrea gained its independence. But it wasn’t until 2007 that the border was finally demarcated, though Ethiopia has still to agree to this, and still stations troops there. Ethiopia today has endured acts of terrorism and has the threat of kidnappings in some of its border regions.

Historic center of Agadez, Niger (Shutterstock)

Historic center of Agadez, Niger (Shutterstock)


Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world, with 80% of its land covered by the Sahara desert. It has insufficient funds to develop, despite a large supply of uranium. The largely subsistence based economy has been hit by severe droughts, and the country is constantly fighting desertification. Niger received its independence from France in 1960 and has experienced a combination of single-party and military rule until 1991, when multiparty elections were held. In 1996, a military coup brought a return to military rule before democratic elections were again held. Again in 2010, a military coup occurred, before a new election was held. In addition, Niger has had much regional conflict from the Nigerien Movement for Justice (a Tuareg rebel group) in the northern region. Today Niger faces security concerns that may spill over into its borders from insecurity in Libya, conflict in Mali and the violent extremism (including Boko Haram) from northeastern Nigeria.

kenya flag waving



Kenya has unfortunately suffered terrorist attacks in recent years, most recently a bombing at the Westgate Shopping Mall. There has also been violence surrounding elections, which led to many deaths and people being displaced. Although Kenya has one of the most advanced economies in East Africa, it is still a developing country, with a significant proportion of Kenyans living in poverty.

A Hesperus Swallowtail butterfly on a 1982 Nigerian stamp (Boris15 / Shutterstock)

A Hesperus Swallowtail butterfly on a 1982 Nigerian stamp (Boris15 / Shutterstock)


Nigeria, one of the most populous nations in Africa, full of wealth and oil. And yet with a history of civil war, religious and ethnic tensions and conflicts, long military rule, Nigeria faces many daunting prospects. The nation is also known for its corruption and mismanagement, which has seen the oil-rich revenues squandered and many people therefore without education or good health care. Religious extremist groups are active in northeastern Nigeria, and religious violence is unfortunately commonplace in many northern Nigerian cities. The country’s GDP is the largest in Africa (in 2014), overtaking South Africa for the first time. Crime is still widespread.

guinea bissau



A history of civil war, government coups, presidential assassinations, and general political instability contributed to Guinea-Bissau’s inclusion in the Failed States Index. It has one of the world’s lowest GDPs per capita, as well as one of the lowest Human Development Index ratings in the world (two thirds of the population lives below the poverty line). Since the most recent 2012 coup, Guinea-Bissau has become a hotbed of drug trafficking activity, with an interim government either unwilling or unable to effectively curtail it. Presidential elections in Guinea-Bissau have continued to be pushed back and postponed since late 2013. They are currently scheduled to take place on April 13, 2014.

guinea flag



Despite its immense mineral wealth, Guinea is a poor and economically under-developed nation. The influx of refugees from neighboring conflict zones in Sierra Leone and Liberia only serve to worsen its economy. The refugee crisis has also inflamed ethnic tensions, and the country’s authoritarian regime, headed by President Alpha Condé, has a reputation for corruption and repression.

ivory coast flag

Ivory Coast flag (Shutterstock)

Côte d’Ivoire 

Many assumed that the ousting of former ruler Laurent Gbagbo in 2011 and the inauguration of the democratically elected President Ouattara would bring more stability and order to Côte d’Ivoire. However, factionalized fighting and ethno-regional conflict have not ceased. Anti-government attacks on police, military, and even civil structures are commonplace and U.N. peacekeepers attempt to help maintain order. Despite this, tourism is still alive and well (if not exactly thriving) in most of the country, though the western regions of Dix-Huit Montagnes, Haut-Sassandra, Moyen-Cavally and Bas-Sassandra should be avoided.

1990 stamp from Zimbabwe (Brendan Howard /

1990 stamp from Zimbabwe (Brendan Howard /


Led by dictator Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe has suffered from a multitude of problems: extreme poverty, rampant HIV/AIDS, insufficient healthcare, and for a while, some of the worst hyperinflation in the world. Elections are considered far from free and fair, and the brain drain of the country’s best and brightest talent continues to hurt its struggling economy. For a while, tourists avoided Zimbabwe in droves, but it has been stable enough since 2009 that tourism is booming once again and the country is considered generally safe for visitors, as long as they stay on the beaten path.

central african republic


Central African Republic 

Since its independence in 1960, the Central African Republic has experienced a series of coups — with the most recent one in March 2013, when the Séléka rebel group seized the country’s capital. The head of state is viewed as having no legitimacy in the eyes of the citizens of the CAR, nor with the international community. The lack of effective security and the overwhelming refugee crisis further lower the country’s score. Rule of law within the Central African Republic is basically completely absent, which makes it an unwise choice for tourists.

Flag of Chad (Shutterstock)

Flag of Chad (Shutterstock)


This landlocked country sits side-by-side with other unstable nations, which makes it even more difficult to maintain order. Unrest in neighboring Sudan has created an influx of millions of refugees, and Chad’s dearth of public infrastructure has created rampant health problems with extremely low life expectancy (just 49 years on average). Human rights abuses consistently occur in the country, and the struggling economy has only seen slight improvements since Chad became an oil-producing nation in 2003. Refer to the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office travel advice for guidance on where it is safe to go in Chad.

Refugees at Mingkama, Awerial, Lakes State, South Sudan (Paskee / Shutterstock)

Refugees at Mingkama, Awerial, Lakes State, South Sudan (Paskee / Shutterstock)

South Sudan

Following the formation of South Sudan in July 2011, the international community was hopeful that stability would return to the region. However, the new country has continued to struggle. The fact that South Sudan has stockpiles of oil, but refineries lie in Sudan, has prevented the economy from flourishing. Internal political and ethnic tensions have led to deadly violence, and security forces alternately are unable to quell the clashes or contribute to the violence. Travel is not recommended to South Sudan under any circumstances.

Khartoum, Sudan, with the Nile river in background (Shutterstock)

Khartoum, Sudan, with the Nile river in background (Shutterstock)


Internationally notorious as a result of the genocide in Darfur from 2003-2006, Sudan has suffered the after-effects of its international refugee crisis, and ethnic tensions have shown no signs of subsiding. The international community has attempted  to restore order and maintain peace, but factionalized fighting among the country’s elite continues to pose a threat to a functioning government. Human rights abuses are rampant, and Sudan consistently receives low scores on the Human Development Index. Khartoum and areas in the northeast quadrant of Sudan are considered safe to visit, but the rest of the country is a no-go zone.

DRC Army (US Army Africa / flickr)

DRC Army (US Army Africa / flickr)

Democratic Republic of Congo

Democratic Republic of Congo rates such a high place on the list due to immense demographic pressures: an exploding HIV/AIDS epidemic, extreme poverty, insufficient food, and pollution that creates unsanitary conditions across the country. Powerful rebel groups have waged intermittent internal conflicts, which have resulted in tens of thousands of deaths, and the government is widely considered dysfunctional and inept at addressing the country’s pressing issues. All travel to eastern and northeastern DRC is advised against, with the exception of the town of Bukavu.

Refugees in Dahaab camp, Somalia (Paskee / Shutterstock)

Refugees in Dahaab camp, Somalia (hikrcn / Shutterstock)


Somalia has been ranked one of the most failed states in the world nearly every year since 2008, and 2013 was no exception. It has rampant disease, an increasingly fraught refugee situation and internal displacement, a lack of public infrastructure or development, and a record of human rights abuses that stretches back decades. The country’s famine of 2010- 2012 is estimated to have resulted in more than 260,000 deaths, and tribalism and rebel groups have continued to make food scarcity a pressing issue. The barely-functioning Somali central government has been accused of harboring internationally known terrorist groups for years. As a result, all travel is advised against, due to the high risk of terrorism and kidnapping aimed at westerners.

Want to discover the finer side of Africa? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Leave a Comment